How to Create Discussion Questions

There has been much discussion recently about whether young adult and middle grade authors are over-marketing to fellow authors and under-targeting the intended first audience. Whether or not that’s true, I have absolutely no clue. But one nice way to engage with the readership is by providing discussion questions. For bigger books, a publisher will often  create the discussion questions and publish them on the book or imprint website, but individual authors may create questions as well. Here are some ideas for making 10-15 questions that will help engage readers in dialogue about a given story.


1. Start with the simple. With the first few questions, your goal should be to get the ball rolling. Think about how the actual discussion will unfold. Some readers might be nervous to jump in on the discussion and will appreciate the opportunity to answer some easy questions as well as the reassurance that they are adequately grasping the meat of the book. So, here you might try to ask more “fact-based” questions. For instance, Scholastic in its discussion questions for the Hunger Games asks about the ways in which the Gamemakers control the environment of the Games. With this question, participants can begin listing ways, refreshing their memories and encouraging multiple answers.

2. After a starter question or two, move to the next layer. How does Character X feel about Y? (i.e. How does Katniss feel about the country of Panem?) This sort of question requires a degree of inference from the reader, but encourages readers to support their opinions with evidence from the book.

3. Continue to develop questions whose answers require more inference, more analysis, and greater connection of ideas. What is the significance of the title? Who is truly to blame for such-and-such consequence? How accurate was the narrator’s view of his or herself?

4. Take on the role of the author. Ask discussion participants why the author made X decision? How did that affect the story? Where did the author use foreshadowing? As the author, what would you have changed about the book? Why do you think the author chose the path chosen in the book?

5. Dissect an excerpt. Choose a passage from the book and ask participants to explain its significance. Why were certain words chosen? What is the tone?

6. Connect the story with history. For example, what parallels can be drawn between the Resistance Movement during World War II and the 7th installment of Harry Potter? First provide context about the history being referenced and then help ferret out connections between the two. How might this have influenced the author’s writing of the book? Does the book provide commentary? If so, what? Think about different political movements or about the mythological basis of a story.


What questions do you find interesting when thinking back on a book read? What sorts of statements or questions best instigate conversation among teens?


2009 Debutante Author Interview Series: Sarah MacLean


Seventeen-year-old Lady Alexandra Stafford doesn’t fit into the world of Regency London — she’s strong-willed, sharp-tongued, and she absolutely loathes dress fittings. Unfortunately, her mother has been waiting for years for Alex to be old enough to take part in the social whirlwind of a London Season so she can be married off to someone safe, respectable, wealthy, and almost certainly boring. But Alex is much more interested in adventure than romance.

Between sumptuous balls, lavish dinner parties and country weekends, Alex, along with her two best friends, Ella and Vivi, manages to get entangled in her biggest scrape yet. When the Earl of Blackmoor is killed in a puzzling accident, Alex decides to help his son, the brooding and devilishly handsome Gavin, uncover the truth. It’s a mystery brimming with espionage, murder, and suspicion. As she and Gavin grow closer, will Alex’s heart be stolen in the process?

Romance and danger fill the air, as this year’s Season begins!


Ok, so by now, most of you have probably seen the blurb and cover for The Season and can’t wait to get your greedy, little hands on it, right? I know I can’t. Lucky for us, Sarah MacLean has been gracious enough to stop by to answer a few questions. And, although, I doubt that will tide us over ’til March, it sure does help!

Thanks so much for your time, Sarah.

The Season is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?

Well, I had a bit of an unconventional route to publication.  I’ve dabbled in writing for years, kicked around a few adult romance novels, but never finished anything…and then an editor at Scholastic who knew I was really into historical romance suggested I try my hand at a ya historical.  The Season was born…  So I guess technically it was one book.  But that seems off, considering how much paper there is in boxes at the back of my closet. 

Wow! That is unconventional. Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?

hmmm… that’s hard.  The call during which I sold The Season was pretty fantastic.  I got that one straight from the editor…and it was super exciting.  After I sold The Season, I got an agent–the fabulous Alyssa Eisner Henkin–who has been with me every step of the way since.  It was Alyssa who delivered the most recent call…announcing my three-book adult historical romance sale to Avon…and that was probably the best moment of my life.

There’s a huge difference between selling a book on your own and doing it with an agent…When you’re on your own, you’re acutely aware of everything that’s going on…so it takes some of the mystery out of the experience.  But when you have an agent, the call is such a surprise…such an out of the blue, oh my god, kind of experience…and she’s so excited with you and for you…it’s pretty awesome. 

I’ve heard great things about Alyssa! She went to my alma mater and was so sweet when I queried her. But a new three-book deal! Congrats again!

Throughout your journey as a writer, what resources have you found most valuable to your success? Websites? Books? Conferences?

Definitely other writers.  Some of my closest friends are writers who are old pros with the process, and they were kind enough to let me call them with hysterical questions and concerns.  I’m also a member of the 2009 Debutantes, and the experience of interacting with a group of such incredibly talented similarly green writers has completely changed the way I look at the art and craft of writing.  My first piece of advice to anyone looking to write a book is to find a group of writers to commune with.  It’s the best part of the job.

Great advice and fun to follow. Thanks!

I know you work in publishing. How has that helped you become and be an author?

For years I was a literary publicist (no longer, though)…so that has been both a good and bad thing during this whole process.

There have certainly been things that I had to learn, though.  PR doesn’t come into play until the end of the publishing process…so I knew nothing about the editorial process…the sales process…the design process…so, I was just as green as everyone else in that sense. 

It’s a nice feeling when your editor tells you something about sales or marketing and you don’t have to ask them to explain, I know how much concern and confusion that can bring for authors, and I haven’t had much of that. On the other hand, knowing all this stuff sometimes backfires. It’s hard not to think about the best and worst case scenarios for your book when you’ve seen successes and failures up close and personal.

Add to that the fact that it’s impossible to remain aloof and impartial when it’s YOUR book, and…well let’s just say there’s plenty of crazy in me despite my industry experience. Luckily, I have an editor, an agent and a publicist who are patient with me…and wield iron hands when need be.

This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?

Uhm…yeah.  I’ve had too many of those to count.  🙂  Writing historical adds a whole layer of accuracy to novels. 

If I were writing fantasy about, say, hobgoblins, I’d have a certain amount of freedom to make things up…you’ve never (I assume) met a hobgoblin, and so I can tell you exactly what they look like, what they wear, the words they use, etc.  As long as I stick to my own hobgoblin world rules, you can’t tell me they’re not accurate.

Not so with Regency England.  EVERYTHING has to be historically accurate, checked and double checked, there are dresses and foods and titles and words that didn’t come into the lexicon until a century later…and if it weren’t for my very dilligent editors, friends, and copyeditors, I would be exposed as a fraud.  And, I promise you, there have been some MAJOR oops! moments.

Stupid history.  Next book, hobgoblins.  Hot ones. You heard it here first. 

I’m sure your agent and editor will be so pleased to learn your next book idea. You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?

No.  I can’t believe it. And, for the most part I go back and forth between thinking that people are totally crazy for buying my books and that I am totally crazy for doing this for a living.  🙂  But it’s pretty awesome.  And I would be a big fat liar if I didn’t say I loved every minute of this wild ride and sometimes daydream about a life of champagne wishes and caviar dreams.  And, now, I’ve dated myself.

Your March release date is quickly approaching! Where in the process are you right now?

Where in the process am I?  I’m in the freaking out part of the process.  My book is, as I type, being shipped to kids via Scholastic Book Clubs…and pretty soon I’ll be able to walk into a bookstore and see it on the shelf.  I have absolutely no control over people buying and/or liking my little book…and that scares the bejeezus out of me! 

Understandable, but from the buzz you’ve been getting, I doubt you have anything to fear. Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

It’s a super exciting moment, receiving your first editorial letter.  If you’re lucky (as I was) your editor is kind and gentle and appreciates that you are a first-time author with all the complete and utter neuroses that come with that label.  My letter was 6 pages long, which scared me half to death, before I started reading it, and realized that my editor had included sweet little passages about the things she liked as well as the things she was curious about. 
It should be said that my editor is a full-on genius.  She has brilliant ideas that make me feel like my brain is small.  Truly.  She can ask a question delicately…or gently suggest an addition or a deletion…and it’s like the text sings.  I love editorial letters from her…because they make me see my book as way more than the sum of its parts.

That must be an awesome feeling to have someone so involved in your book with you. Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
Emma.  Because then I’d be Jane Austen.  And Mr. Knightley would live in my head.  🙂  

I should have guessed! Thank you again, Sarah, for answering all my questions. I can’t wait to pick up The Season in March and I’m sure we’ll be seeing great things from you in the future!

Y’all can reach Sarah at her blog:

It’s Their Year And They’re Coming Here


It’s almost 2009 and I’ve been busy setting up some awesome interviews to share with you this coming year! We’re continuing the 2009 Debutante series with soon-to-be-published YA/MG authors and can I just pat myself on the back for a second? Because I lined up a stellar list for January. I’ll be adding a couple for this month, too! So there *should* be two interviews per week now. Yay! Anyway, thank you so much to these authors for agreeing to share their experiences.  Here is the list of authors to look forward to next month:


Monday, 1/5               Jackson Pearce, As You Wish, HarperCollins Fall 2009

Monday, 1/12            Sarah MacLean, The Season, Scholastic, March 2009

Monday, 1/19            L.K. Madigan, Flash Burnout, Houghton Mifflin, Fall 2009

Wednesday, 1/21      Deva Fagan, Fortune’s Folly, Henry Holt, Spring 2009

Monday, 1/26            Megan Crewe, Give Up the Ghost, Henry Holt, Fall 2009